Audio Drama Review: Mutual Radio Theater, Volume 1, Week Four

This is the final part of our review of Radio Archives’ Mutual Radio Theater, Volume 1 covering the third week of the series. For a look at an overview of the set, see the first week review.  Also see week two and week three

The Blind Gun:  The town bully murders the father of a nineteen year old blind man right in front of him. The local law refuses to do anything reasoning that it’s the boy’s word vs. the murderer’s and a blind man’s word isn’t worth as much as that of a man who can see. The young man asks an elderly alcoholic former gunslinger to teach him to shoot so he can get vengeance for his father’s death. Golden Age Stars: Vic Perrin, Marvin Miller, Parley Baer, Howard Culver 

Review: The story is about what you’d expect from this genre and hits all the right plot notes. Not only that, but the murdered father, the gunslinger, and the young blind man are written well and are quite likable characters. There’s no real shock in the outcome, although it does take a turn I wouldn’t have predicted in order to get there. It’s a good listen and delivers everything you could ask of a story like this. Grade: B 

Fontaine Harris, Hollywood Producer: It’s 1928 and a con man has bought a stake in a movie studio. However, the company’s head honcho has some odd ideas about films and our protagonist begins to suspect something’s off. Golden Age stars: Harold Peary, Barney Phillips, Shepard Menkin, Sandra Gould, Jack Kruchen, and Shirley Mitchell 

It was great to hear Harold Peary acting on radio as his performance as the Great Gildersleeve were so iconic. This one had funny moments, but didn’t reach a definitive conclusion. Doing some research, I found this story was a continuation of two prior stories that had appeared on Sears Radio Theater.  In the Sears Radio Theater, Pat Buttram (famous for playing Mister Haney on Green Acres.) plays the lead character. Here, Jesse White takes the role and he’s passable at best. 

The ending is unsatisfying and more than anything else, it just seems to stop.  It sets up a bit for the final sequel story (which would air six months later.) That’s a dubious decision that makes this hard to judge. Grade: C 

An International Sport: A young Soviet Ice Skater is planning to defect at the International Championships in London over the objections of her loyal Soviet patriot father. The KBG is aware of this and has plans to use this to their own advantage. Golden Age Stars: Shepard Menken,  Ben Wright, June Whitley-Taylor

This is fairly standard Cold War fare. Shepherd Menken does as good a job as the father as he possibly can, giving some warmth that lends believability for where his character goes in this story. It also does have a good mystery around why the Soviets are letting her go, knowing she intends to defect and what their agenda is. 

The biggest problem is that the Soviets are played in acartoonish way. When production treats them as bad guys who are figures of menace, it can work. When a production portrays them in silly stereotypical ways, it’s hard to take them as a serious threat, which undermines the story. Grade: B- 

Those Who Can…: An acting instructor and two of his students help coach a temperamental singer who is set to star in a big movie but has no movie experience. Golden Age Star: Byron Kane 

Review: This is an intriguing and engaging story. The acting instructor is an interesting character. He’s dedicated to his profession and got a lot of ideas but doesn’t always practice what he preaches. I like how the singer was played. She was stuck up, entitled, used to getting her own way, and full of herself, yet still in a way that wasn’t over-the-top and you could believe she could get by in most places by the strength of her celebrity. And of course, there’s Sandra, the acting student, who comes off a bit timid at first but really comes into her own at the conclusion of the story.  

This was just a nice piece of writing and acting. Grade: A- 

The Whale Savers: An aspiring photojournalist lands a berth on a whale saving ship bound for Antarctica. Golden Age Stars: Parley Baer 

“The Whale Savers” definitely has a viewpoint on the very hot 1980s issue of saving the whales and has a few educational moments about whaling and what whale-saving ships do as they try to stop a pirate whaler from killing a blue whale. However, this story never forgets it’s an adventure tale and it delivers. It mixes its thrilling sea and whale plot with a believable relationship that develops and resolves sensibly with the ship’s only female crew member and our glory-seeking photographer protagonist. It’s story that’s well-researched, not afraid to show it, but also never gets bogged down in unnecessary details.  

Having Leonard Nimoy narrate is fun given his most famous character, Mr. Spock, would go on a Whale-Saving mission of his own in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, a film that Nimoy also directed and wrote the story for a few years later. 

Whether this story had any indirect influence over Mr. Nimoy in writing Star Trek IV, I don’t know. However, whether you agree with its message or not, this story was one whale of a tale and a fine conclusion to the set. Grade: A 

Overall Thoughts

By nature of being an anthology program, there’s a wide variant in quality with the series. I’m so glad I got to hear certain episodes while other episodes were awful. The Western Night provided the most consistent quality. The Love Night was surprisingly strong, with some good dramas, and only one effort that was slightly subpart in week three. The mystery night was consistently passable, with no stories that stood out for either being good or bad. The adventure night was a mixed bag. After a so-so first week and a dreadful second, the third and fourth week featured some of my favorite stories of the set. Alas, the Comedy in this series is really a weak point, as so often it just wasn’t funny or wasn’t that funny.

On the other hand, the sound quality of the set really does shine through. The sound is superb from start to finish. However, at its price point, it’s a dubious value for a set where the stories vary in quality so much.

If you’re nostalgic for the show or remember the 1980s and want to go back, this could be a good set to purchase. If you love great sounding audio and have the cash, this is also a really superb listen. In addition, if your library has the Hoopla app, you can check this out and enjoy the stories that sounded like they interest you at no charge.

Rating: 3.5 out 5.0

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